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Ash and lava: Etna’s eruption impresses viewers but does not cause destruction or death

February 26, 2021 10:51:13 AM

Etna, the volcano that dominates eastern Sicily, evokes superlatives. It is the most active volcano in Europe and also the largest on the continent. And the fiery, noisy display of power it produces for days or weeks, or even years, is always super spectacular. Fortunately, the latest Etna eruption that captured the world’s attention caused no injuries or evacuation. But every time he returns in dramatic action, he wows viewers and wows geologists who spend their careers attentive to every thrill, growl, and burp.

Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, spits ash and lava, as seen from Catania, southern Italy, on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. Mount Etna in Sicily, southern Italy Italy, roared again in spectacular action volcanic, sending ash plumes and spewing lava. Image Credit: Davide Anastasi / LaPresse via AP

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What is happening now?

On February 16, Etna erupted, sending out tall lava fountains, which devalues ​​the eastern versant of the mountain ver the uninhabited valley of Bove, which is five kilometers (three miles) wide and eight kilometers (five miles) ) long. The volcano erupted from ash and lava rocks that flooded the south side.

The activity has continued since then, in more or less intense streaks. Flaming lava lights up the night sky in shocking hues of orange and red. It is not known how long this series of exciting activities will last, say volcanologists working at the Etna Observatory, run by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

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While the audience’s fascination began with the first dramatic images of this month, the explosive activity began in September 2019 and grew much stronger two months ago. Current activity refers mainly to the southeastern crater, created in 1971 from a series of fractures.

Hard to lose

Etna rises 3,350 meters (approximately 11,050 feet) above sea level and measures 35 kilometers (22 miles) in diameter, although volcanic activity has changed the mountain’s height over time.

Sometimes the airport in Catania, the largest city in eastern Sicily, has to close for hours or days, when airborne ash makes flying into the area dangerous. At the beginning of this recent period of eruptive activity, the airport briefly closed.

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But for pilots and passengers flying to and from Catania at night, when the volcano is calmer, the sight of deep red in the dark sky is an exciting sight.

Living with a volcano

With Etna’s lava flows largely contained on its uninhabited slopes, life takes place in towns and villages elsewhere on the mountain. Sometimes, as in recent days, lava rocks rain down the streets, bounce off cars, and shake roofs.

But many residents generally find this to be a minor inconvenience compared to the volcano’s advantages. Lava flows have left fertile farmland. The apple and citrus trees are blooming. The red and white wines of Etna are among the most popular wines in Sicily, made from grapes grown on the volcanic slopes.

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Tourism generates income. Hikers and backpackers enjoy views of the often swollen mountain and the sparkling Ionian Sea below. For skiers who want uncrowded slopes, Etna is a favorite.

Can be deadly

Inspiring ancient Greek legends, Etna has experienced dozens of known eruptions throughout its history. An eruption in 396 BC. C. was recognized for having kept the army of Carthage at bay.

In 1669, in what was considered the worst known eruption of the volcano, lava buried a swath of Catania, some 23 kilometers (15 miles) away, and devastated dozens of villages. An eruption in 1928 cut a railway line that encircled the base of the mountain.

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More recently, in 1983, dynamite was used to deflect lava that threatened inhabited areas. In 1992, the military built an earthen wall to contain the lava, which flowed from Mount Etna for months after hitting Zafferana Etnea, a town of a few thousand people. At one point, the steaming lava stopped two kilometers (just over a mile) from the outskirts of the city.

Over the past century, geological setbacks, low-energy explosive eruptions, and lava flows, both fed from the summit and side vents, have characterized Etna.

Also read: Sicilians “don’t worry” about the Etna eruption because “they have seen worse things”

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